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I am only a machine.

.. it is true that this [skill] had not always been observed as the principle of appointment, but it was thought best to follow the best examples … it is indeed far the most painful part of my duty, under which nothing could support me but the consideration that I am but a machine erected by the constitution for the performance of certain acts according to laws of action laid down for me, one of which is that I must anatomise the living man as the Surgeon does his dead subject, view him also as a machine & employ him for what he is fit for, unblinded by the mist of friendship.
To Benjamin Rush, June 13, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
When can a leader appoint a friend to a job?
Jefferson wrote to one old friend explaining his thinking in appointing another friend as Director of the Mint. The appointee was noted mathematician Robert Patterson. (Patterson was one of the scholars. who tutored Meriwether Lewis prior to his epic journey west. So was Dr. Rush. Both did so at Jefferson’s request.)

Jefferson cited the appointments of two men, Isaac Newton in England and David Rittenhouse in America, as examples of skilled mathematicians appointed to positions that demanded such skills. Both men were well-received by their countrymen. Patterson would be similarly approved.

Jefferson hated the personnel aspect of his job and sought cover by comparing himself to a medical examiner. As that one was charged with dissecting dead bodies, Jefferson was required to dissect live ones, examining what he found within, looking for fitness for office. The Constitution turned him into nothing more than “a machine.” If he found a man fit, as he did Patterson, his friendship with the man was no longer a factor.

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Would you paint your floors GREEN?

… I was at the painting room of mr Stewart (the celebrated portrait painter) who had first suggested to me the painting a floor green … the true grass-green, & as he had his pallet & colours in his hand, I asked him to give me a specimen of the colour … and I spreed it with a knife on the inclosed paper. be so good therefore as to give it to mr Barry as the model of the colour I wish to have the hall floor painted of. The painters here talk of putting a japan varnish over the painted floor and floor-cloth after the paint is dry, which they say will prevent it’s being sticky & will bear washing.
To James Dinsmore, June 8, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What does this have to do with leadership?
Not much, though it does illustrate how minutely Jefferson was involved in his decades-long pet project, building and rebuilding his home, Monticello, and his careful attention to detail.

James Dinsmore was the skilled workman who produced much of the fine interior woodwork at Monticello. Mr. Barry was a house painter. “mr Stewart” was most likely Gilbert Stuart, the foremost portrait artist of the day. His subjects numbered around 1,000, including the first six Presidents.

If Gilbert Stewart recommended a “true grass-green” as a fitting floor paint color, that was good enough for Jefferson.

Floor cloths were explained in a previous post.

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I can neither reject nor accept the gift. Part 2.

Another case has occurred of greater difficulty. mr Harris, our Consul at Petersburg has sent me as a present, a small marble bust of the emperor Alexander. I had concluded to reject it; but mr Madison advises it’s being recieved for the President’s house, as destined for the office & not the officer; and this because of the relation between the thing & the person of the emperor, whose unequivocal … friendship to our country should privilege him against any thing which might seem to be a slight. his bust is in the warehouse of Smith & Buchanan, and has been since sometime last year. will you be so good as to direct it to be forwarded here
To Robert Smith, May 31, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders need subordinates who will disagree with them.
Taken from the same letter as the previous post about the difficulty of receiving a gift of wine, Jefferson had another gift dilemma. A government employee serving as consul in St. Petersburg, Russia, sent his boss a marble bust of Russia’s Emperor Alexander. Jefferson wanted to return it but knew the diplomatic difficulty that could cause.

His Secretary of State came to his rescue with an alternative view. The bust could not be separated from the leader it represented, a man who had been a steadfast friend of the United States. The Emperor must not be offended. James Madison counseled his boss to receive the gift, not as given to him personally (like the wine) but as a gift to the nation, to become part of the President’s House, the name of the White House prior to 1815.

With this Gordian knot untied, Jefferson requested the bust be retrieved from storage and forwarded to him for display in the nation’s capital.

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I can neither reject nor accept the gift. Part 1.

I return you Commodore Preble’s letter which gives us time enough to consider on his mission [against the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean]… the hogshead of wine [about 80 gallons] was yesterday brought here. it is really a painful & embarrasing thing. to reject may be supposed to imply impure motives in the offer. to recieve leads to horrid abuse. the former however has been my rule, where the thing is of any value, as the lesser evil … I have therefore determined to send him a counter-present, of a kind which cannot be unacceptable. he is a man of business, travels much, writes much. I will send him therefore a portable secretary, that is to say a Polygraph. the invention is new, ingenious, useful, and of equal cost with the hogshead of wine; and … cannot be unacceptable.
To Robert Smith, May 31, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Conflicted leaders need the wisdom of Solomon.
Robert Smith was Jefferson’s Secretary of the Navy.

Jefferson refused to accept gifts as President, but here he faced a conflict. He needed the skill (and good will) of an experienced Navy leader. To return the gift of wine would be to questions the giver’s motive. To accept it opened the door to more gifts from those who sought the President’s favor.

Jefferson’s rule was to return gifts of value (though he often kept minor gifts such as books but sent fair payment to the giver). Yet, he recognized circumstances where returning a gift would bring unwanted results.

What to do? Recognizing that businessman Preble had need for copies of his considerable correspondence, Jefferson would send him a polygraph, a clever device that made a copy as the writer penned the original. Jefferson had one and loved it. He solved his problem, avoided giving offense, and paid for the wine by sending Preble a helpful gift of the same value.

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Great idea. Not gonna do it.

In answer to M. De la Coste’s letter of the 27th Th: Jefferson is bound to observe to him that no authority has been given for the establishment of a Museum at this or any other place on account of the General government: indeed that this is not among the objects enumerated in the constitution to which Congress are authorised to apply the public monies. whenever the revenues of the Union shall be liberated from calls of the first urgency, it is probable that an amendment of the constitution may be proposed, to authorise institutions for the general instruction. in the mean time it is the duty of the public authorities to keep themselves within their legitimate powers.
To G. C. Delacoste, May 31, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Even visionary leaders have limits to their authority.
The recipient had closed his natural history museum in New York for lack of public support. He offered to sell his collection of hundreds of animal species for the formation of a National Museum in Washington City [D.C.].

This was the type of venture that Jefferson, the private citizen, would have supported wholeheartedly. As President, he had to decline. Why? Because the Constitution gave neither authority to establish a museum nor power to Congress to spend public money on one. Case closed.

Jefferson speculated that once America’s debt from the revolution had been paid off, the Constitution might be amended “to authorize institutions for the general instruction,” such as museums. Until that time, federal power was limited to those few responsibilities specifically listed in that Constitution.

Delacoste’s letter is most interesting. He repeatedly addressed the President as “Your Excellency,” a phrase Jefferson probably found repugnant though he was far too polite to mention it. The writer also admits to hard times, having lost his property in “Dutch Guyana,” a result of the French Revolution. Thus, he was looking for a job, too, hoping the President would hire him to acquire more specimens for that National Museum. The letter concluded with an enclosure listing the many specimens he was offering, including “1 black ostrich and 1 Uppoe [Hippo?] from Africa” and “37 individuals from the coast of Guyana among which a patira a Jaguar, several monkeys, a three toed, and a two toed Sloth, a coendou, a Tatou, a great ant-eater or Tauranoir, a middle and a least ant eater &ca”

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Not worth the paper they are written on

agreeable to my promise I now enclose a list of pamphlets, published whilst in Dublin—if you honour me with your Command for one or more of them I will instantly attend to it
To Thomas Jefferson from Patrick Byrne, May 23, 1805

Th: Jefferson presents his compliments to mr Byrne & his thanks for the inclosed catalogue of pamphlets, which he now returns not finding any thing in it which he has occasion to call for. in truth political pamphlets are of so ephemeral an interest that their value passes almost with the moment which produces them.
To Patrick Byrne, May 31, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Discerning leaders know when to be dismissive.
Byrne was a Philadelphia book seller from whom Jefferson had bought numerous volumes. Apparently, Byrne also thought his patron would be interested in current political writings and sent him a list of pamphlets, hoping for another sale.

Jefferson said thanks but no thanks. The political thought represented in those pamphlets held no interest for him. Remember, Jefferson was a man interested in almost everything, so this dismissal is extraordinary.

He was very interested in classic political thought, ideas that stood the test of time, and possessed numerous books on the subject. That he had no interest in these may have meant they dealt with current political thought, i.e. what was popular or trendy or partisan. For him, any value evaporated as soon as they were printed.

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Thanks for a job VERY well done!

… Not understanding the conveyance to you by post beyond Richmond, I have thought it safest to remit the 100. D. for you to Gibson & Jefferson, subject to your order, which is done this day. I was never better pleased with a riding horse than with Jacobin. it is now really a luxury to me to ride…
To John Wayles Eppes, May 27, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders gratefully express their appreciation.
In 1802, Jefferson asked his son-in-law Eppes to purchase a “super fine” horse for him. Here he thanked Eppes and paid him for the acquisition of Jacobin, the best riding horse he’d ever had.

Riding was almost a physical and emotional necessity for Jefferson. To be able to do so in “luxury” was a wonderful bonus.

Curiously, several online search results for Jefferson’s horses, including Monticello’s records, do not list a horse named Jacobin.

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You gotta start somewhere.

… The work we are now doing, is, I trust, done for posterity, in such a way that they need not repeate it. for this we are much indebted to you not only for the labour & time you have devoted to it, but for the excellent method of which you have set the example, and which I hope will be the model to be followed by others. we shall delineate with correctness the great arteries of this great country: those who come after us will extend the ramifications as they become acquainted with them, and fill up the canvas we begin…
To William Dunbar, May 25, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Visionary leaders pioneer so others can follow.
This excerpt came the end of a long, technical letter about Dunbar’s commission to explore Red River from its mouth on the Mississippi between Natchez and Baton Rouge. It flows from the northwest, forms much of the southern border between Oklahoma and Texas, and has its source in the Texas Panhandle near Amarillo. Jefferson considered its exploration second only to the one Lewis & Clark had begun of the Missouri River a year before.

This would be the first investigation of the Red River. Jefferson wanted it done in such a manner that it provided an accurate foundation for future explorations. He commended Dunbar for his labor, time, and skill and the excellence of his example. It was for Jefferson’s generation to begin documenting the great rivers, so subsequent generations could “fill up the canvas we begin.”

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Is your hide thick enough?

you have indeed recieved the federal unction of lying & slandering. but who has not? who will ever again come into eminent office unanointed with this chrism [oil]? it seems to be fixed that falsehood & calumny are to be the ordinary engines of opposition: engines which will not be entirely without effect … I certainly have known, & still know, characters eminently qualified for the most exalted trusts, who could not bear up against the brutal beatings & hewings … I may say, from intimate knolege, that we should have lost the services of the greatest character of our country [George Washington] had he been assailed with the degree of abandoned licentiousness now practised.
To James Sullivan, May 21, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Great leaders are lost for fear of public attack.
Sullivan [1744-1808] was the Republican attorney general in Massachusetts and would soon become governor. Jefferson commiserated with him on the “lying & slandering” both had endured, the only weapons in their opponents’ arsenal. Although their accusations were without merit, they still stung.

Some “eminently qualified” individuals avoided public service because of those attacks. Even President Washington, known for his fearlessness, would have abandoned public life had he been subjected to the current level of abuse.

Jefferson was considered thin-skinned but able to heed the advice Washington had given him years before, that when attacked, do not respond. He vented to friends in his private correspondence, but publicly, he suffered in silence.

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I will have you arrested.

   Miss Eleanor W. Randolph to Th: Jefferson        D.[ebit]
1805. May 21. To a letter which ought to be written once in every 3. weeks, while I am here, to wit from Jan. 1. 1805. to this day, 15. weeks 5.
Cr.[edit]
Feb. 23. By one single letter of this day’s date               1
Letters Balance due from E. W. Randolph to Th:J.                                                                        4
                                                                                     5

So stands the account for this year, my dear Ellen, between you and me. unless it be soon paid off, I shall send the sheriff after you.
To Ellen W. Randolph, May 21, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders need the encouragement of news from home.
Jefferson prepared a chart indicating that he expected a letter every three weeks from the recipient, for a total of five letters due since the first of the year. So far, he had received only one. The recipient was delinquent four letters and threatened with arrest unless the imbalance was corrected.

Who was the laggard letter-writer? Jefferson’s nine-year old granddaughter. He subsequently lightened the tone, inquiring about the flowers at Monticello, for a report on mumps afflicting the family, and asking her to convey his affection to her parents and siblings.

Being away from Monticello was a sacrifice Jefferson accepted. More correspondence from everyone at home was a frequent request, one never acted upon to his satisfaction.

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